Matt Kuchar was as rooted at East Lake and the Tour Championship as the Bermuda rough. He had made it to eight in a row before the Roundup of a particularly non-descript 2018 got him.
That was but a momentary glitch it turns out. An uncomfortable deviation from the norm. “It’s no fun sitting at home (Sea Island) watching,” said Kuchar, a long-ago Georgia Tech player who’s equally at home in Atlanta.
“It’s more fun being inside the ropes playing. This has been a great year, and I’m excited to be back. I hope to be in the highest position possible and make a run at the FedEx Cup.”
Yes, he’ll be back next week at the FedEx Cup finale, becoming one of only four players to qualify for the season-ending event nine times or more since 2007. He just belongs there. But it’s not known exactly how viable he’ll be for the $15 million first-place prize.
There will be a new format at East Lake next week, a staggered scoring system. The top guy among the 30 FedEx Cup points leaders who qualify for East Lake will start the tournament at 10 under. From there, players will start anywhere from 8 under to even-par, according to where they fall on the points list. Then they go play four rounds with their adjusted scores, and whoever’s lowest at the end wins – that much, at least, a familiar concept.
Look at these new and reportedly improved playoffs through Kuchar’s eyes. He was No. 1 in FedEx points for 12 weeks this year before backsliding. He came into this week’s BMW Championship here fourth in points. At that, he’d start next week at 6 under, four shots behind whoever comes to East Lake as the points leader. Hardly insurmountable.
The slide has continued through two rounds of the BMW. After a 2-under 70 on Friday, he was 3-under for the tournament, in a tie for 40th place and nine distant strokes from Hideki Matsuyama’s lead.
His Friday points projection was sixth – and if that held, he would start next week at 4 under rather than 6 under.
The question is: How much will Kuchar sweat out a possible swing of a stroke here or there next week as he plays out the BMW this weekend?
“Clearly, we all hope to be at minus-10,” he said after his round Friday. “I don’t get too wrapped up in it. You play your best each week, and wherever the strokes add up, you make the most of it.
“I’m trying to play my best this week, have a good week at the BMW, trying not to worry about what position I start in next week.”
Having won twice by January this year, Kuchar took early control of the FedEx Cup points race. But that was fleeting. And as his game left him a bit this summer – no finish inside the top 40 his past three tournaments – he has seen his position on the points list slowly erode.
“My ball-striking was really good early on, and is not quite as sharp right now,” he said. “I was in very good control there for a number of weeks. You never own it, but it was fun to have it in pretty good control there for a while.”
No, it hasn’t been fun watching himself descend the points ladder. But Kuchar is certain that he can’t dip so far this weekend that he will be out of range of the points leader come next week at East Lake.
“Sure, that makes it more difficult to slide having that No. 1 spot for so long. The goal is to stay in that No. 1 spot. You’re not happy about it. But I think the Tour Championship’s new set-up provides a lot of excitement, and definitely a chance to get back to that No. 1 spot,” he said.
As Friday’s round here outside Chicago came to a close, there was maybe more gnashing of teeth over who might not make Atlanta as those who will.
Last year’s Tour Championship winner – Tiger Woods, perhaps you’ve heard of him – shot 1 under for a second consecutive day. At an event where they’re parboiling par, that’s not enough. Needing to finish 11th or better here to make it to the Tour Championship, Woods stood T-48.
It was time to start talking about the Hail Marys. “I'm going to have to have a great weekend and make a lot of birdies this week and post some rounds in the mid-60s to give myself a chance at it,” Woods said.
Same for Jordan Spieth, who is in danger of missing his second consecutive Tour Championship. He’s at 3 under, T-40, needing to finish in the top six this week to advance. A 4-under 32 on his back nine Friday at least threw him a lifeline.
“All in all, you know, I need probably to go somewhere around 10 under on the weekend, but certainly I have the firepower to do it,” Spieth said.
On Friday it was Matsuyama’s turn to humble Medinah, shooting 63 and smashing the course record by two strokes.
The guy who is 114th on Tour in strokes gained putting couldn’t miss one Friday. Matsuyama made a 29-footer for birdie on No. 1 and a 30-footer for birdie on 18, and a lot of others in between.
All this going low is making Brooks Koepka strain mightily to keep his spot atop the points list and that 10-under advantage come next week. So far he is hanging on, at 5 under for the BMW Championship. Still projected No. 1, but not comfortably so.